For the last 14 years, Darren Jordan has united artists and black communities in Edmonton with his event 5 Artists 1 Love, which takes place in February, Black History Month. But when his eldest son was diagnosed with autism, Jordan found a way to also use this event to support a local autism organization.

Jordan began the art and music collaborative 5 Artists 1 Love with the intent of helping those in the black community express their identity and culture through visual art and music. 

“This was an opportunity to see if there are more black artists in the community that would be interested in showing their work,” Jordan says.  

The event is named 5 Artists 1 Love because it always features five artists demonstrating their love for their art and culture.

When first getting off the ground, 5 Artists 1 Love took place in Tu Gallery, a space that is now home to Edmonton’s Duchess Bakery. As it evolved, they moved to larger venues.

Braxton Santiago-Garneau, an artist within the community, describes being featured in the event as a positive experience for him.

“It’s great to see different artists from the same background expressing themselves and being around creatives,” Santiago says. “It’s also opened opportunities for me because of the exposure of the event.”

Andalis News Black History Month 2

Artists from 5 Artists 1 Love’s 2019 performance “Barber Shop Chronicles: Tales from black barbershops and salons.” Photo by Thedros Tecle.

Bringing African music to Edmonton

As the venues got larger and they were given the opportunity to rent out theatres, 5 Artists 1 Love began to put on performances which showcased local musicians. These performances each explore a theme of African music and culture. 

“One year,” says Jordan, “the theme was ‘Got Soul?’ So, we posed the question to the general public. A friend in L.A knew Lalah Hathaway, so we got answers from her, and the Jackson 5 while they were in town. Throughout the show we had these little video vignettes of people’s answers. We’re constantly trying to challenge the conventional thoughts on what black or soulful music is.”

Jordan also says the concerts have never failed to sell-out throughout the years.

Timothy Noel, a vocalist, says that 5 Artists 1 Love is well-received by the people of Edmonton.

“5 Artists 1 Love is one of those events people look forward to once it’s over. It’s brought a lot of communities together.”  

Jordan’s vocation 

Amid all of the work and commitments that come with running 5 Artists 1 Love, Jordan feels well supported, especially by his wife. 

Each year, as February nears, Jordan’s wife gives him ample time to plan the event by entertaining the couple’s kids, leaving him time to work.  

“Without her in the mix, there would be no 5 Artists 1 Love,” Jordan says.

In addition to organizing 5 Artists 1 Love, Jordan has been working in children’s services since 1989. He graduated from Grant MacEwan University in the Child and Youth Care program, and began working in the field of children’s mental health at the Royal Alexandra Hospital as a Child and Youth Development Specialist.

To date, Jordan has worked in numerous areas within the field. Currently he’s a milieu therapist — directly involved with patients on structured interactions, developing social skills and working on emotional regulation. He also runs groups to support parents and families who are raising children on the spectrum. 

Jordan says teaching social skills to kids who struggle to interact with others is his passion.

“There’s a variety of reasons why these kids struggle — some have anxiety, are on the spectrum, some are under socialized,” Jordan explains. “So, they need to learn and practice social skills in a safe place and I get to provide that for them.”

While providing these services for kids and families, Jordan’s life came full circle when his eldest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.

“For years I would work with families, providing them with information in navigating the system. Now, when I speak with families, I’m doing so as an ally — as somebody that is actually going through it. It makes me a better service provider and counsellor.”

“Once you get to a position of influence you can use that to further some altruistic agenda… and the organization is gracious and very happy with this partnership.”

Partnership with Autism Edmonton

As 5 Artists 1 Love grows, Jordan has the opportunity to support his personal life and vocation through 5 Artists 1 Love’s partnership with Autism Edmonton, a local autism organization.

“Once we got to a point where we were bringing in significant crowds on a regular basis, I brought on Autism Edmonton, giving them a platform to speak about their organization and we also use it as a fundraiser for them. Either way, they’re raising awareness for autism and the services that are out there.” 

While Autism Edmonton is providing services for families and individuals dealing with autism, Jordan says he’s happy to be paying their support forward.

“Once you get to a position of influence you can use that to further some altruistic agenda… and the organization is gracious and very happy with this partnership.”

Jordan hopes 5 Artists 1 Love will continue to grow and allow him to keep supporting the city, people who are involved within the community and Autism Edmonton.

“My long-term goal is for the event to live outside the confines of February and Black History Month, and to be on the scale of something like Folk Fest — that it’s recognizable and anticipated by people not only in Edmonton.”

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